When you hear the word ‘introvert’, what comes to mind? For many of us there can be an automatic association with the words shy, retiring, timid and socially awkward. We often equate it to how sociable people seem.
We can forget that introversion/extroversion is a natural foundation of our relationship with gaining and managing our energy.
Even as conversations along this theme become more commonplace it can be difficult to clarify between the natural social implications of having an introverted temperament (i.e. you gain your energy from being alone), and the social response of shyness (i.e. you reject a social situation because you fear what people will think).
It’s very easy for us to say ‘introverts are not shy’ and move on. But I think that it is important for us to understand what it is that creates the link in our mind (both as individuals and society) that believes this to be true. It’s not just the case that non-introverts make the association. It is the same for introverts as well. And it can become confusing for all of us.
My wife, Nic and I were walking through town a while back. Our attention was caught by a boy, no older than about ten, who was with his parents. After we wandered past them we shared a look and Nic just said ‘I know’. Nothing more was needed.
The boy was big, a lot larger than the average. We found ourselves troubled and rather moved by his t-shirt, which had a picture of Mr Greedy on and said “I Love Pies”. There was something heart-breaking about that statement, like his identity had been established by his appearance, and that his appearance in turn was being established by his identity.
As a child people often saw and described me as shy.
When you are told something about yourself enough times you believe it. And not only do you believe it, but it can also start to become true. Once you believe something about yourself or your reality, you begin to see the world through that lens.
When I believed I was shy I adopted that label and acted shy; I feared certain social interactions because I didn’t want my ‘shyness’ to be picked up on, and so often withdrew. Shyness as an identity was reinforced by virtue of the fact that I believed my introverted tendencies were in fact me being shy. And the more I fought them by trying to be more extraverted, the more I withdrew (and more shy I believed I was) because I was using so much social energy.
I suppose a major reason that introversion and shyness are associated in our minds is that at times they may display a similar appearance. Both may choose to stay at home rather than go to a party. Both may sit in the corner and not say much during a meeting or gathering. Both may avoid situations where they might be asked to do something unexpected.
The key difference is the motive for the choice.
For an introvert it may be their preference to stay at home. Perhaps they are in the middle of a great book, a creative project, or they are tired because they have had a highly stimulating day or two. The decision is based on a preference for time in their own space.
Whereas the same decision that is driven by shyness is done so despite a deep desire TO GO to the party, a wish to get involved and speak up during a gathering, or a longing to stand up and perform.
Shyness inhibits people from doing the thing they want to do because of fear that others are not going to approve.
This is not inherited, it’s not a part of your temperament, and it’s not who you are. It’s a response to a situation. There are many extraverts who are often shy, and many introverts who are almost never shy. We are ALL shy in certain situations and circumstances.
If anyone told you they do not experience social discomfort from time to time they would be lying.
What is important is that we understand that ‘Shy’ is not a personality trait. It’s not who anyone is and it is not a helpful way to describe someone. Before using that word about someone try identifying the underlying reason for the behaviour that appears on the surface as being driven by shyness. Are they really being shy, or are they just introverted?
Like ‘bossy’, ‘naughty’, ‘greedy’, ‘lazy’, ‘messy’, and other Mr Men characters, using words like these too much can have unexpected consequences in the way that children self-identify. Words like these can become defining filters that we run our choices through: “I AM lazy and messy, therefore people wont expect any different if I just sit here and don’t tidy up”
If you want to delve deeper into this topic then come over to the Member’s Haven where this month we are exploring the theme of Hunting Your Confidence So You Can Take Your Goals and Life to the Next Level. Discover:
- How to make developing your self-confidence a priority in life
- A simple process for building your own program to become more confident
- The difference between concepts such as ‘shy’, ‘introverted’, ‘highly sensitive’, ‘social anxiety’ etc
- How we can break with the stories we were told at school about our identity and social position
- How we can tune into the voice inside that helps gently push us out of comfort zone and into new patterns of behaviour
Click here to find out more about joining the Member’s Haven
Over to You
Question: can you think of any other words that we use to define people (especially kids)? What were you described as when you were a child? Did it stick? Please leave your answer in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you think.